The U.S. Virgin Islands are hot—and no, that is not a meteorological observation—so we sat down with Commissioner of Tourism, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, for an update on a few things agents should know.
Ed Wetschler (EW): Delta Airlines’s nonstop Atlanta-St. Croix service is only scheduled through August 15th. Then what?
Beverly Nicholson-Doty (BND): The St. Croix flights will probably stop for a few months in the fall, but these flights have been so successful that all indications are that they’ll resume in December. Meanwhile, Delta has also expanded its flights from JFK to St. Thomas to a daily schedule.
EW: Virgin Islands Ecotours’ new excursions include options like a sunset birding and kayaking tour in St. Thomas. Does this reflect the trend?
BND: Definitely. What you see here is the marketplace developing products based on demand—in this case, a demand for eco-friendly and sustainable activities. Visitors also want authentic experiences that are uniquely Virgin Islands; they want offerings that are indicative of a sense of place.
EW: How’s the Nature Conservancy involved?
BND: In many ways. For example, the Nature Conservancy is rolling out a program that trains dive operators to lead tours featuring coral restoration. This will enable visitors to dive with a purpose.
EW: If you’re not a certified diver, you can still get married underwater in the U.S.V.I., right?
BND: That’s right, because Coral World is now offering underwater weddings using snuba instead of scuba gear.
EW: Logistical question: How do the bride and bridegroom kiss?
BND: [pause] I’m sure they do it through their gear. Because taking the gear off might not be such a good idea.
EW: Nature Conservancy also has a program with restaurants in the U.S.V.I. What’s the connection there?
BND: Sustainability. So far 12 restaurants have joined a program in which they pledge to only serve fish that is in season, so they’re helping maintain the islands’ fish reserves and coral reefs. Look for the Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative sticker in the windows of restaurants. New restaurants in the U.S.V.I. represent other trends, too.
EW: For example?
BND: 40 Strand offers sidewalk seating for that bistro/cafe feeling, as well as a great wine list, house-crafted cocktails, and vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. At Zion, 90 percent of the ingredients used in the dishes are locally sourced. Savor St. Croix serves locally made cookies and candies, and now the chef is serving breakfasts with authentic local dishes, like saltfish gundi and bush tea made with locally sourced lemongrass, soursop, and other produce. There’s also a new company, Tropicana, that makes ice pops from passionfruit, guava, and other tropical fruits. They are so good, you can’t stop eating them.
EW: There’s talk about a resort going up on Water Island, just off St. Thomas. What’s the latest?
BND: We have gone through a feasibility study, requested a proposal, and selected a company that will present the government with a plan. The new governor is focused on continuing to increase overnight stays; we have one of the most aggressive economic development programs in the region.
EW: So where do travel agents fit in?
BND: We have programs with particular agent groups, such as Virtuoso and Ensemble, and we plan to offer an education program soon. Our promotions include value-added features for clients who visit in the summer. Travel agents are important to us, and we plan to continue to strengthen our relationship with them.
For more information, visit visitusvi.com.